DANVILLE — Vermilion County residents now have a new way to get connected with area health and human services at any time and on any day.
All they have to do is pick up a phone and dial 2-1-1.
United Way of Danville Area officials say the organization has contracted with PATH (Providing Access to Help) to bring the service, which is also available in Champaign County, to the area. The local agency is paying $6,200 a year to fund the service and will also market it in the area.
"The United Way has always been dedicated to connecting people with the information and resources they need," Executive Director Jeanne Mulvaney said. While her agency will continue to do that, she said calling the easy-to-remember number is a more efficient and sometimes less frustrating way to access that help.
Here's how it works: When people dial 2-1-1 from a cell phone or land-line phone, they will be connected to United Way 2-1-1. Trained specialists at PATH's call center in Bloomington — who are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week — will gather information about callers' situation and needs and match them to the local agency or agencies that can assist them.
All calls are free and confidential. Callers can get help with needs such as food and shelter, counseling and mental health services, income and employment support, help for the elderly and people with disabilities and resources for family and children.
While people can look up information on the Internet or in the phone book, those resources can't provide that person-to-person connection, said Karen Zangerle, PATH's executive director.
"It's the key factor," Zangerle said, adding that when people hear a human voice, they know that someone cares.
Katie Osterbur, of Peer Court Inc., a United Way-funded agency, said she definitely sees a need for the service in the area.
"We get calls all of the time of people needing services immediately," she told a group of service providers, businesspeople and community leaders, who gathered earlier this week to learn about the program. While she can sometimes direct them to get the help they need, "sometimes it's hard to tell them how to access services. This gives them the power. They can call when they need it, and talk to people who care and can help. ... And, it's an easy number to remember."
Mulvaney said her organization is currently raising money to update its website. Once that's done, the website will publicize the service and number.
Officials also hope that once people are familiar with the service, it will reduce unnecessary calls to 911 and direct people to help faster.
"Many times people call 911 for help when it's not a medical or life-threatening situation," Mulvaney said.